Born to Russian Jewish parents in Moldova in 1930, Maria Pergay fled to Paris with her mother during World War II. Following her studies in costume, set design, and sculpture at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques, she built her career as a shop window designer through the 1950s, eventually receiving commissions from major brands like Dior and Hermès. In 1960, she opened an atelier in the Marais district of Paris, selling her own creations, primarily silverwork, directly to the public.
As Pergay began to explore furniture making in the late 1960s, she also became drawn to stainless steel, the material that is now most associated with her work. By the 1970s, she was attracting international clients, including Salvador Dalí, Pierre Cardin, and Saudi Prince Abdullah, and in the ’80s and ’90s, received several important commissions in Russia. Today she continues to design interiors and produce limited-edition works, almost always incorporating her beloved stainless steel.
Last weekend, while New York City was overrun by design enthusiasts in town for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, Maria Pergay, a 79-year-old Parisian furniture designer relatively unknown in this country, was ensconced in a nautical modernist room at the Maritime Hotel. She was in New York not for the furniture fair — an event, it turns out, that she has never heard of — but to show her latest work at the Demisch Danant gallery in Chelsea (including a sofa of broken bricks she is shown sitting on). Those expecting a woman of her age to produce soft, feminine, upholstered pieces appropriate for a Paris pied-à-terre may be surprised by what has been Ms. Pergay’s material of choice for decades: stainless steel.